Ways to run school council meetings

These are a few ideas for how you can run discussions in your school or class council meetings. In fact you could use them in any meeting really.

Method Good for Be aware of
Yes/No/Maybe – designate a different area of the room for each answer. Ask the question and get people to stand in the area that represents their answer. Ask people to explain their reasoning and persuade others.

A more sophisticated version is an ‘opinion line’ where participants place themselves along a line to show how strongly they agree/disagree with something.

A further level of sophistication is to make a graph with 2 axes (e.g. difficulty vs importance or agree vs care).

Getting people out of their seats.

Pushing people to explain their reasoning.

Getting different people talking.

Being a physical demonstration of changing opinion and persuasion.

Peer pressure: people not wanting to stand on their own. You can often avoid this by starting with trivial questions and supporting and praising those who do stand on their own.
Passing the ‘conch – an object is passed around and only the person with that object can speak.

Different rules can be applied: e.g. when you have the ‘conch’ you have to speak; the ‘conch’ has to be passed round the circle; the ‘conch’ can be passed to anyone you like; the conch only goes to those demonstrating good listening.

Stopping interrupting: it gives a very clear signal of who is supposed to be speaking.

Can help quieter people to speak, because they know they won’t be interrupted and/or they are required to.

The ‘conch’ becoming a distraction.

Meetings becoming slow if there is no Chair to pass the ‘conch’ on.

Small groups – set the question and then split the class in to small groups (3-6). Ask them to discuss it and come up with one answer that they can all agree on. Have one person from each group give their group’s answer and reasoning. Allows everyone to have a say without taking too long.

Encourages compromise within the small group.

One person dominating a small group.

If all the small groups come up with different answers coming to a conclusion may need further discussions.

Losing your marbles – give each person 3 marbles. When someone speaks they have to hand over a marble, so once they’ve contributed three times they need to stay quiet. You can also turn this round and say by the end of the meeting everyone needs to have lost all of their marbles. Making sure the meeting isn’t dominated by a few people.

Encouraging people to consider what is really important for them to contribute to.

Keeping track of who contributes and who doesn’t.

Having everyone run out of marbles before the end – you need to make sure everyone knows what is coming up, so they can plan when to use a marble.

What methods do you use to liven up your meetings and ensure that everyone gets a say?


Add yours
  1. Peter Hirst

    Verbal discussions are always difficult as they can easily be led by the articulate or dominant/loud… Coming up with ways to limit their involvement based on frequency of input will really frustrate them as the first things they say won’t necessarily be their best ideas (which they’ll want to contribute too). They’ll leave feeling things have been unsaid. The quieter more thoughtful one’s will be able to contribute but potentially won’t as they’ll not have time to mull over everything and process it before reaching their opinion. Time limited verbal discussions so often lead to inaction which is why we have rules etc to make them ‘fairer’ which in turn often alienate the ones most likely to verbally contribute without adequately including the others who may prefer anonymity and writing ideas down. Having said that, I like the idea of keeping track of who has contributed and who hasn’t with marbles although think equating ‘contribution’ to ‘speaking’ isn’t really fair as some people who don’t ‘contribute’ may spend a long time thinking about the discussion and come back with ideas later whereas some may just sit silently and think about something else…. Also, it’s really difficult to track who says what, what they said and then the interpretation of this is down to the Chairman/Minute taker.

    • Asher

      Hi Peter, thanks for your thoughtful comments.
      Yes, these discussions are difficult, and that’s exactly the point of getting everyone involved in them. We’ll all be involved in many discussions throughout the course of our lives, so we need to learn and practice how to take part in them constructively. Part of doing this is breaking down the roles that some people naturally fall in to. There are those who feel that they need to have their say on every point and those who will stay quiet for a whole meeting. Giving the one encouragement to select what s/he contributes to and the other the encouragement to speak up more often is a first step to getting them to play a constructive part in a meeting. It’s a bit like learning maths, you start off with tricks that ideally you’ll forget once you become more confident and competent.
      No matter who I’m working with I can’t emphasise enough that the most important bit of any meeting is what happens before the meeting, for precisely the reasons you’ve stated. It gives people time to think (whether they’re quiet or loud). So, as far as being frustrated with not being able to contribute goes, or not having time to consider opinions, I think maybe I wasn’t clear where I said, ” you need to make sure everyone knows what is coming up”. What I meant by this is that all the issues to be discussed are trailed (e.g. in an agenda and pre-meeting info) precisely so people do have time to think about how they want to contribute. One way we do this with school councils is as well as the information sent out before the meeting, all the action teams present their proposals at the beginning of the meeting, with the other participants noting down their questions or thoughts, not asking them at this time. Once everyone has presented, then there are rounds of questions and people have had time to consider and prioritise. We find students are then very good at cutting to the chase and avoid repetition.
      It’s very important that people are able to express themselves in a medium they feel comfortable in which is why school councils have suggestion boxes, surgeries, meetings, blogs, forums and probably many more ways for people to get their point across. What’s important is the range as no one method will work for everyone.
      I don’t think the point of school council minutes is to track who said what, it’s just to record what actions were decided upon – I’d actually argue that should be the case for all kinds of meetings except in the most legally controversial circumstances. What people need to know is WHO is going to do WHAT by WHEN. These points should be clearly repeated by the Chair as the Secretary records them, so there isn’t really any room for interpretation.

  2. Peter Hirst

    Certainly agree with the point of getting everyone involved and also that time should be spend before the meeting planning what will be involved. As you say, the best way to engage everyone is through various methods of communication but the problem arises when the only method of dialogue is via face2face.

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